Author: Audrey Driscoll

Writer, gardener, lapsed cataloguer, and author of the Herbert West Series.

Logic and Logistics: Writing a Plausible Plot

The Work In Progress is approaching The Crisis. This is where all the plot points are drawn together to produce the climax and conclusion — the whole point of writing (and reading) the novel.

Having written five pages of #12 — I’m not going to worry about chapters until a later draft, so each of the fifteen 5-to-7-thousand-word sections is called #1, #2, etc. Back to #12 — having written five pages, I wasn’t happy with where it was going. The characters were sitting down to yet another meal! Forget that, guys — it’s time we had some action here!

clock mechanism plus numbersAfter a productive thinking session in the shower, I wrote a Revised Sequence of Events list for #12. My mind cleared as the sky after a rainstorm, and I now have a much better outlook on the WIP. (We’ll see how long that lasts).

I’m beginning to understand the Rushed Ending which plagues many a novel, if reviews I’ve read are any indication. The author has been juggling a bunch of balls for 70 thousand words, and now must speed up the rate of ball movement while dancing on a tightrope. All the details, hints, foreshadowing, red herrings, symbols and themes must fit together in a way that makes sense and produces thrills, excitement and satisfaction for the reader. No wonder there’s a certain urgency to get it all done before the balls go bouncing all over, or the whole thing collapses.

rubiks cubeI think I’ll be all right if I keep asking myself these questions: Why would she/he do that? And: Does this make sense? If the honest answer to the first question is “Just ‘cuz,” and to the second is “No,” I’ll have another look at what leads up to that point and make the necessary changes. (Of course, fiddling with one part of a plot can mess up another, sort of like Rubik’s Cube).

Plot logic is especially important when supernatural elements come into play. Up to this point in my WIP, they have lurked in the background, occasionally peeking out to generate interest and hint at future developments. I have to resist the urge to invoke the supernatural as a quick fix for plot problems that should be dealt with in realistic ways. “Oh, hey — I guess I can fly now!” On the other hand, I don’t want to spin things out to the point where the magic, diluted with too much realism, becomes irrelevant.

Well, having made these observations, it’s back to writing the WIP. Now, where’s that list?

cosmos

Images from Pixabay.

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table, teapot, plates, candle

Savouring the Plot: Food In Fiction

People in movies hardly ever eat. Drink, yes, eat, no. Even in a movie that’s all about food, like Babette’s Feast. Consider — it’s pretty hard to look gorgeous, sexy, or heroic while chomping on something, or with crumbs clinging to your perfectly plumped lips. Never mind the horror of a smile revealing a chewed up glob stuck to a tooth.

But in books, this doesn’t matter. Readers edit their own mind-movies, and most enjoy a meal or snack now and then.

Remember The Hobbit? Bilbo Baggins is always thinking about food, even when dealing with trolls and giant spiders. Readers relate to that, for who hasn’t suffered from hunger pangs? And when those pangs are relieved (in Beorn’s house, for example) the reader shares vicariously in the feast. Come to think of it, Tolkien created many such occasions. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are full of food-related scenes, from Bilbo’s birthday party at the beginning to Sam’s rabbit stew near the end.

My fictitious characters eat a lot. Or rather, many plot-propelling conversations in my novels take place at meals — dinners, lunches, impromptu snacks or afternoon teas.

But is the writer obligated to supply their characters with three squares a day, plus snacks, from page one to “The End?” In my current WIP, mealtimes are interfering with the meat of the plot. I’m getting tired of figuring out what to cook up for these folks in Luxor, Egypt, in 1962 — in a cafe, in a hotel restaurant, in the “dig house” of an archaeological team. What about a bag lunch for the trip to the mysterious wadi? Give me a break! I’ll furnish enough food for plausibility, but don’t intend to get bogged down in irrelevant culinary details.

Now I’m (finally) at the stage where dire discoveries and amazing revelations are more important than the next meal. Physiology being what it is, though, my young, healthy protagonist will get hungry even while trying to escape the clutches of the villain, and figuring out the Secret.

Well, if she survives, she might get a cup of coffee and something sweet.

coffee-2458300__340

 

Writing Contest Idea – Feedback Please!

Now here’s an idea worth looking into! Your chance to suggest the prize for a contest!

Fiction by Rachael Ritchey

I’ve been working on design techniques and making more pre-made book covers. Now, keep in mind, I’m more than happy to make changes to my pre-made designs if such differences will better suit an indie author’s needs. I mostly make them for practice and to give an idea of what I’m capable.

But what we’re really here to talk about today is an idea that I had while staring at this fantastic cover I designed last night, one that cannot be sold to anyone as is but is still too cool to let it collect virtual dust in a file on my hard drive.

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All the pictures are CC0 public domain photos, but with the faces and not knowing if there are model releases, I cannot use them for retail sale of the design. I am sure I could ask the photographers, but at this point it didn’t seem worth…

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maple leaves, orange leaves, yellow leaves

More Autumn Glories

I couldn’t resist posting a few more photos from the autumn garden…

autumn crocus, fall crocus

Autumn crocuses among fallen maple leaves and hellebore foliage.

 

smoke bush, cotinus, fall foliage, senecio foliage

Smoke bush and Senecio foliage.

 

Pennisetum alopecuroides "Little Bunny" ornamental grass in autumn

Pennisetum alopecuroides “Little Bunny” and old stalks of Digitalis lutea.

That’s it for now — we’ve had some cold winds and even a taste of snow (!). All those coloured leaves are on the ground, and the season is shifting toward winter.

 

Book Promo – Get the Herbert West Series for half price, November 3rd to 10th…

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Boxset Link

Smashwords is an ebook distributor, but it also has its own nifty little ebook store.

Herbert West is the main character of the Herbert West Series (who would have guessed?), written and published by me, Audrey Driscoll. The genre? Something I call literary supernatural/psychological.

From ancient Arkham to the agony of the Great War, from Acadie to the islands of the West Coast, a brilliant but amoral physician is subjected to travails and entanglements, to become a source of healing — and of peril.

More about the series HERE

November 7th is Herbert’s 113th birthday — or his 17th, if you count from the day I began writing The Friendship of Mortals, which is the first book in the series.

To celebrate, I’m offering Books 2, 3, and 4 of the series, as well as the “box set” of all four books, at half price from November…

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Zeke the Cat sleeping on pond bench,

“Boring!”

A cat would rather sleep than read a book.* So would many readers, if the book they’re reading is boring.

This is the ultimate condemnation of a piece of writing. It’s OK (sort of) for a book to be gross, disgusting, crude and even lame (well, lame isn’t so good), but to be labelled boring means a book is a dead duck. Review sites are full of comments like, “If you can’t sleep, take this book,” or, “The only time the story moved along was when I threw the book at the wall.” Accompanied by single stars.

So, authors — don’t write boring! Easy peasy.

But…

What is boring, anyway?  “Boring,” like “fun,” “profound,” or “disgusting,” is a judgment, not an absolute.

Words and phrases often seen in reviews along with “boring” include: slow, too much description, too complicated, doesn’t go anywhere.

So, to many readers, “boring” = slow, wordy, confusing, pointless. But some readers describe slow-paced books as engrossing, with vivid descriptions, complex characters and intricate plots. Questions, puzzles or mysteries engage readers and make them eager to go on the journey created by the author, even if it’s 700 pages long.

For examples of diverging reader opinions, have a look at Goodreads reviews of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

The deciding element seems to be purpose — slow or fast, wordy or terse, simple or complex, if a story doesn’t present a destination, however distant, many readers are not willing to put in the time and effort to read it. To put it crudely, there has to be a payoff.

July 2, 2012

Where?

A book must offer something worth the reader’s time, a path with promise. If the path heads into a dismal swamp or an arid wasteland, instead of climbing to gorgeous views and dramatic heights, the reader will turn around and go home.

Beautiful prose alone isn’t enough reason to keep reading. A plot full of twists and turns won’t keep the reader’s interest if it wanders around aimlessly without a resolution. Fulsome descriptions, extensive backstory, and philosophizing by the narrator put demands on readers’ patience, but they are willing to do the work and put in the time if there is a question to be answered, a mystery to be solved, a revelation to be revealed. The author must acknowledge this and keep the story moving, even if it’s slow and complicated.

Some readers appreciate books that require a bit of intellectual effort. Others demand pure escapism, effortlessly absorbed. The cover image and book description should accurately signal the book’s genre and tone, but, like body language at a cocktail party, there may be room for misinterpretation. If a book’s exterior says “I’m a thriller,” but the story inside is actually romance or another genre, readers feel deceived.

Once annoyed with a book, readers may detach from the story and start to notice things they wouldn’t otherwise: overused phrases or reminders of character quirks; writing that calls attention to itself  (“Hey, check out my strong verbs!”); potentially confusing complications such as chronological and p.o.v. jumps. And, of course, typos, misspellings and grammatical errors.

At this point, the reader closes the book never to open it again. Or maybe throws it at the wall and writes a one-star, one-word review: “Boring.”

Finally, “boring” may be short for “It wasn’t my kind of book.” Reading, after all, is a two-way process. Just as publishing has become easier, so has reviewing and commenting on books. Not all reviews and comments are thoughtful and eloquently expressed.

Authors, be aware of the expectations your book creates, and make sure it delivers what is promised.

Readers, if you think a book is boring, try to figure out why, and put those thoughts into your review. They might help the author write a better book.

* Of course, cats would rather sleep than do just about anything.

tall purple aster fading

Final Flowers

The last blooms of the season…

Purple delphinium

Purple delphinium (although it looks blue in the photo). Grown from seed last spring.

 

autumn crocuses

Autumn crocus, lavender purple (true crocus, not Colchicum)

 

"Fragrant Cloud" rose fallen petals, fruit bowl, purple African violet

Last bloom from rose “Fragrant Cloud”

 

Moving forward…

cotoneaster leaves and berries

Cotoneaster berries.

 

pumpkin

Happy Halloween!

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More From Smashwords

A podcast series for writers intending to self-publish ebooks!

Details at the Smashwords Blog.

SmartAuthor Final Cover

Heads up. This Friday October 27 we’re kicking off the Smart Author Podcast!

Hosted by Mark Coker, The Smart Author Podcast guides writers step-by-step from the very basics of ebook publishing to more advanced topics. It’s a free masterclass in ebook publishing best practices.

Whether you’re new to publishing or you’re already a New York Times bestseller, the Smart Author Podcast will help you reach more readers. You’ll learn practical, no-nonsense advice on how to make your books more discoverable and more desirable to readers.

campion, fireweed and mixed fall foliage closeup

Fall Fever

I love fall. The season of active gardening is winding down, for better or worse. The triumphs and tragedies are in the past, to be fondly remembered or recovered from. It’s too soon to think about next spring. This is a time to savour.

Which is what I’ve been doing, camera in hand, taking snaps of anything that looks even fleetingly beautiful. Actually, most garden beauties are fleeting. A few seconds later, the light has changed. A day later, those leaves have faded or fallen. Now is the time.

We’re moving from early to mid-fall —  60 mm (more than 2 inches) of rain and lots of wind. The garden is changing even as I write this.

So here are the best of my recent photos, carefully “curated” (my first chance to use that word in a sentence):

bergenia

Bergenia foliage turning colour.

 

bergenia, purple asters, front garden, fall

Front garden: bergenias and asters.

 

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Nerines, bergenias, curry plant and senecio ‘Sunshine.’

 

santolina foliage and plumbago flowers

Santolina foliage and plumbago flowers and foliage.

 

pond water dark fallen leaves and duckweed

Reflections, fallen leaves and duckweed on the pond.

 

black mondo grass (ophiopogon) and other foliage

Black mondo grass, lamb’s ears and various leaves.

 

Chines witch hazel foliage

Chinese witch hazel turning colour.

 

pond area, fall

Pond area (the pond is behind the big fern).

 

Western Screech Owl on trellis

This Barred Owl paid a visit one afternoon.

 

maple leaves turning colour

One of the maples coming into fall colours.

 

 

frog on toilet

Unmentionable?

“Write what you know.”

And something everyone knows is you have to go to the bathroom several times a day. When you gotta go, you gotta go. It’s non-negotiable.

So why do fictitious characters hardly ever need to do this?

Not that I’m keen to know every time someone in a novel needs to take a whiz, but considering how awkward it is to be “took short,” wouldn’t authors who want to make their characters suffer take advantage of physiological realities? Especially when you consider the amount of coffee imbibed by some characters and their creators. What about a detective hot on the trail of a suspect who has to stop and look for a washroom? Or a romantic scene short-circuited by a call of nature?

And what about villains? There may be other ways to foil their evil plans.

Hmm.

Seriously, I’ve read advice to the effect that readers relate better to characters with real human imperfections than to flawless types who never mess up or encounter any of the annoying little problems of life. Like running out of TP. Or making an entrance trailing some from one’s stiletto heel.

So what prompted these scatological speculations? The main character of my current work in progress is right now in a situation where the facilities are minimal and basic. No hot shower, no triple-ply TP, and maybe no toilet as such — awkward for a young American woman visiting a village on the west bank of the Nile in 1962. And things are going to get worse.

I suppose the reason for the absence of bodily functions in fiction is obvious: “Eww, who wants to read about that stuff?” Well, hardly anybody, including me. As a fictional device, this is one where “less is more” applies. Which is why my character will have to cope with the lack of facilities off-page. Besides, if I do my job right, she’ll have a lot more to worry about.

 

washroom sign

Images courtesy of Pixabay